Labor Day weekend often means one last big picnic before the fall gets underway, and the menu often includes potato salad. There’s a constant argument about the proper form that potato salad should take. But we’ve consulted some of our favorite chefs for inventive ways to wake it up.
Spicy fried chicken fat, white miso, Cognac
At Picnic, Provisions & Whiskey, we do a crawfish boiled potato salad where the potatoes are poached, then fried in hot & spicy fried chicken fat and dressed with white miso, lemon and sea salt-infused Dukes Mayonnaise. Back at Commanders Palace, we do Boulanger potato salad, where we roast our potatoes at 400 degrees to get a crispy and crunchy crust. Once cooled, we chop the potatoes and dress them with caramelized garlic that’s been flamed with umami -rich shiitake mushrooms and Hennessy Cognac. Then, we splash them with liquified hogs head cheese to reflect our French heritage. —Tory McPhail, executive chef, Commander’s Palace, New Orleans
Potato salad is like a blank canvas onto which you can throw all kinds of colors, flavors, and textures. I grow the herb lovage, which tastes a lot like strong celery. It’s delicious chopped up, and added to potato salad. Sometimes I add bacon and hot cider vinegar, as a nod to German-style. I love to use chopped scallions, capers, and thyme and rosemary and basil and tons of parsley to give it a green swirl. —Kathy Gunst, author and resident chef, NPR’s Here and Now
Warm bacon vinaigrette
Warm bacon vinaigrette is a classic dressing for tough and bitter greens such as escarole and frisee. And, bacon and potatoes are a strong match. The key is to use just enough bacon to give it a smoky, salty flavor. Most of the fat is poured off. But a small amount - less than 1/2 teaspoon of bacon fat per person - is combined with brown sugar and vinegar to make the dressing. Sour, salty, bitter, sweet, and savory—with the whisper of smoke from the grill.” —Virginia Willis, chef and author, Atlanta
I make mine with red potatoes, celery, and chunks of hard-boiled egg. The dressing is Blue Plate mayonnaise, yellow mustard, hot sauce, and a good shot of lemon juice. Pro tip: Then, add a little bit of olive juice. —Frank Brigtsen, chef and owner, Brightsen’s, New Orleans
Roasted in a layer of salt
I like to salt-roast my potatoes when making potato salad. By salt roasting, I mean salt crusting the potatoes with a layer of salt that surrounds the potatoes, not just a heavy handed sprinkling. This method seasons the potato, but also asks the salt to act as insulation and cooks to potatoes evenly as well as drawing out some of the water and leaving the potato with an intense flavor. —Lawrence Fogarty, Main Course Cooking School, Houston
This is how we Southern Greeks make it. Boil the potatoes a while, then finely chop green onion and celery. Add olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper and a little bit of granulated garlic. Yes, garlic. My mom has always made it that way. —Nick Panos, owner, Nick’s Original House of Pancakes, Ann Arbor, Michigan
Dress it warmly
My first and lingering taste memory is German style with a vinegar dressing that my mother put on when the boiled new potatoes were warm. She said those potatoes were harder and had less moisture, so they didn’t absorb much dressing and therefore wouldn’t get soggy. Simple ingredients and a lasting memory: oil, vinegar, onion, salt and freshly ground pepper with a sprinkle of sweet paprika and parsley. — Ina Pinkney, chef and author, Chicago
An Indian twist
My Indian-influenced recipe for New Potato Raita (see below) is full of bold flavor with spices like asafoetida, red chilies, ginger, mustard seeds, dry mango powder and curry leaves. Yet, it has none of the heaviness that comes with mayonnaise and boiled eggs, because it is dressed with yogurt. Give it a go and watch potatoes be the center of attention at your party. —Vishwesh Bhatt, chef, Snackbar, Oxford, Mississippi
New Potato Raita
Serves 6-8 as a side dish, recipe courtesy of Vishwesh Bhatt
- 2 lbs. New Baby red-skin potatoes (or other small potatoes—the smaller the better), boiled in salted water until just tender, cooled and cut in half. Toss the halves in a little bit of neutral oil and lightly roast them or put them on the grill to cook off the excess moisture.
For the dressing:
- 2 cups Greek yogurt
- 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
- Pinch of asafoetida*
- 1/2 tsp. amchoor*
- 1 sprig curry leaves*
- 3 dried red chiles, such as arbol
- 1 serrano pepper, seeded and minced
- 1 tsp. minced ginger
- 1 tsp. minced garlic
- 2 tsp. brown mustard seeds
- 1 Tbsp. cumin seeds, toasted and crushed
- 1/2 cup minced red onion
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Chopped cilantro for garnish
* These are not ingredients you will run across at your local grocery store. You will have to make a trip to an Indian market for them, but once you do a whole new world will open up for you.
Put the yogurt in a large mixing bowl and stir. Heat the oil in a skillet on medium-high heat until shimmering. Add mustard seeds and wait for them to start popping. Add asafoetida, red chiles, curry leaves, and sauté for 20 seconds.
Add ginger and garlic, stir and cook for an additional minute. Add this mixture with the rest of the ingredients to the yogurt and mix well. Add the cooked potatoes, stir gently to dress evenly. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a serving bowl and garnish with chopped cilantro.